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  • David Hume - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

  • Can we really rely on our senses?

  • The Scottish philosopher David Hume focused on this problem in his book An Enquiry into

  • Human Understanding, first published in 1748.

  • Hume was well known for his scepticism and his empiricismthe view that all knowledge

  • is derived from what we perceive via our five senses, rather than through reasoning and

  • theoretical speculation.

  • For Hume, our minds can only operate in four wayscompounding, transposing, augmenting

  • or diminishing materials received from the senses.

  • He believed that the only true statements we can make about reality are empiricalbecause

  • they are directly based on perceptions.

  • And he argued that we should be sceptical of general theories, since they are produced

  • bycustoms of mind” – meaning habits of thoughts, rather than direct observations.

  • We have no guarantee, after all, that the world will continue to behave in the way it

  • has done in the past.

  • We can get a better grasp of Hume’s perspective on human understanding by looking at a child

  • playing with modelling clay.

  • Hume wrote that every thought we have consists of compounds of ideaseach directly derived

  • from sense perceptions.

  • It’s like a child sticking pieces of clay togetherone is shaped like a piece of

  • cheese, two others like slices of bread. Together, they form something that our senses tell us

  • looks like a sandwich. Hume would add that any compound ideas we have about itthat’s

  • a big sandwich, that clay sandwich doesn’t look good to eatare also derived from

  • sense perceptions.

  • The human mind, Hume believed, can transpose one complex idea onto anothergenerating

  • a new idea just as one piece of clay can be exchanged for another. For example, removing

  • a narwhal’s tusk and putting it onto a horsemaking the idea of a unicorn.

  • According to Hume, the idea of God as a wise and powerful being is in fact nothing other

  • than the augmentation of certain qualities of our own minds, joined together into one

  • new idea.

  • Our minds, he thought, have nothing else from which to form an idea of Godjust as our

  • child has nothing but clay to model with.

  • So although the human mind can mould all sorts of fantastical ideas, Hume states that, ultimately,

  • we are heavily restricted in what facts we can thinkbecause these ideas must be

  • based on direct sense impressions.

  • Most importantly, thoughHume taught us that complex ideas should be viewed with scepticism

  • because while we can explain their formation, we cannot prove their reality.

  • A more detailed examination of his ideas can be found in the MACAT analysis.

David Hume - An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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An Introduction to David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding- A Macat Philosophy Analysis

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    周杰 posted on 2015/08/27
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